2021 Jeep Gladiator Review

2021 Jeep Gladiator - Gladiator battles on with greater engine torque


The fine folks at Jeep expanded their growing portfolio in the 2019 calendar year with the introduction of the versatile, mid-size Gladiator, a Jeep branded off-road pickup with adult seating for five thanks to a full-size back row. Gladiator brought a cadre of new shoppers into Chicagoland Jeep dealers by combining four-wheel drive with a versatile cargo-carrying pickup bed out back.

The automotive press took note too, bestowing numerous accolades, including the prestigious “2020 North American Truck of the Year” honor announced each January in Detroit awarded by an independent jury of 50 long-established auto writers throughout the U.S. and Canada; an award much sought after by those who build such products.

Gladiator fills a niche at parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) as its RAM truck brand remains strangely void of a mid-size pickup to call its own. For now, Gladiator carries on as the sole mid-sizer in FCA’s universe.

‘Open Air’ justly defines Gladiator as the four side passenger doors disengage from the body when desired. Need more fresh air? The front windshield folds forward when needed, or it just simply lifts from the vehicle frame. How about additional sunshine; Gladiator offers an assortment of easily removable soft and hard-panel roof tops. Not many pickups of any size or stature stake these claims.

During the premier 2020 model year, a single engine choice awaited all trim levels: FCA’s well-tested, 87-octane sipping, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with variable valve timing (VVT) that cranks out 285 horses.

This powertrain provided more than ample strength when traversing highways and helps pilot a slew of FCA opportunities including the Jeep Grand Cherokee five-door crossover, full-size Ram 1500 pickup and all three 2021 Dodge offerings: Challenger, Charger and three-row Durango.

More than 10 million of these powertrains have graced FCA vehicles since its debut a decade ago.

For its sophomore session, the 2021 Gladiator trends in a second direction or those desiring towing strength and low-end torque; a work-horse diesel opportunity now awaits.

In addition to extending fuel economy, diesel engines historically deliver superior low-end torque (aka ‘grunt,’) welcome when towing sizeable loads. The FCA team utilized its 3.0-liter EcoDiesel in heavy-duty RAM pickup trucks for years In 2020, RAM trucks stuffed an all-new third-generation EcoDiesel under the hood of the light-duty Ram 1500 utilizing dual overhead camshafts with four-valves per cylinder. Gladiator now offers this powertrain and estimates approximately 15 percent of shoppers in 2021 will opt for this diesel variant.

Both Gladiator engines include Start-Stop technology, quieting the engine at prolonged stops, boosting fuel economy and lowering tailpipe emissions.

Diesel engines take advantage of higher compression ratios, exchanging spark plugs for glow plugs. Most diesels require a short pause (to warm up plugs) once cranking the engine (or in this case, pushing the electronic start button) when summoning

This current EcoDiesel requires just a split second before purring for duty on warm days, slightly longer when thermometers dip below freezing

Historically, diesel engines carry a ‘noisy rumble’ reputation when compared to conventional gas engines, but Gladiator’s diesel symphony represented a ‘hum’ rather than a ‘rumble.’

Compared with FCA’s second-generation EcoDiesel, this third-generation improves low-end torque numbers (480 pound-feet of torque vs 420 pound-feet) and ups horsepower (260h.p. vs. 240h.p.)

Gladiator’s 480 lb.-ft. of torque rates at the top of the mid-size class.

Fuel economy shoots upward as well. The Gladiator EcoDiesel averages 24 miles per gallon combined city/highway versus the gas V-6 averaging 19. During a post-Christmas trek to the Wisconsin Dells, highway mileage nicely surpassed 29 miles per gallon.

This V-6 EcoDiesel connects up with a standard eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. Gladiator’s Pentastar V-6 offers either a six-speed manual (one of the few mid-size pickups to offer a manual tranny) or the automatic. Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 pounds and handle a payload of 1,600 pounds; impressive for its mid-size class.

The 15 percent of diesel shoppers pay a price premium for the high-torque engine, adding 4,000 additional dollars plus two grand for the eight-speed automatic transmission. Three available transfer case variations assist with four-wheel low off-road ventures. Full-time four-wheel drive is now available in all 2021 trims.

Trim levels for 2021 include: Sport, Sport S, Mohave, Overland and Rubicon with 10 available exterior paints. All feature a five-foot cargo bed (considered by the industry as a short, not long bed) and roomy five-seat, full-size Club-Cab with four conventionally-sized side doors. Hood, doors, tailgate and windshield frame build from high-strength lightweight aluminum.

Our bright red Overland 4 X 4 started at $40,395 and quickly escalated from there

Aforementioned diesel and eight speed transmission ($4,000/$2,000) pumped up the bottom line as did many recommended options including a body-color three-piece easily removable hard top ($2,395), added passive safety ($895 for cross-path/blind spot detection) and some worth a pass ($1,895 for LED tail lamps, $1,295 for premium front lights) leading to a $61,435 bottom line including a rather hefty $1,495 destination charge.

Overland trims come standard with a mechanical part-time floor-mounted Command Trac transfer case just left of the automatic transmission shifter and fore of the pull-style hand-operated parking brake allowing manual shifting into four-low.

This diesel opportunity highlights a major update for 2021, a year marking 80 years of Jeep ingenuity

As if on cue, an 80th-Anniversary Gladiator edition is available with unique badging and granite crystal exterior paint

Entry Sport trims now offer LED headlights and fog lights as options. A Willys sub version is also new with eye-popping 32-inch mud-terrain tires. The Willys moniker pays tribute to Jeep’s earliest military incarnation by saluting the Willys-Overland Co. of Toledo, Ohio, the tiny car builder helping to launch the durable go-anywhere vehicle during World War II.

Gladiator production premiered in the final quarter of 2018. Total sales in the 2019 calendar year reached a rather mild 40,047 units. Construction of Jeep Gladiators continues taking place along the shores of Lake Erie in Toledo, Ohio.

From the rear-doors forward, Gladiator highly resembles Jeep’s go-anywhere four-door, body-on-frame Wrangler Unlimited Sport Utility.

Familiar Jeep visual cues up front include a seven-slate vertical grille flanked by circular headlights. Flared wheel wells include a boxy, not circular hint. The full-size passenger cabin includes a rectangle shape with front ‘A’ pillars sporting a slight angle

Power windows promote a square shape.

Audiophiles take note: both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay Smartphone interface connect up seamlessly with the fourth-generation of FCA’s Uconnect in all trims allowing phone downloaded applications to flow into and through the sound system. A five-inch in-dash screen comes standard in Sport trims while remaining trims offer a 7 or recommended 8.4-inch screen ($1,895 extra) with both featuring pinch-zoom capacity.

Another mini marvel convenience present in Gladiator and most FCA vehicles are secondary volume and station preset toggle ovals vertical style mounted on the steering wheel’s back side, allowing finger tips to roam freely while hands are stationed in a natural drive-ready placement. In front, extra-large, tactile grab dials workable when donning winter gloves also ease multi-media interaction. The ventilation system also employees a large dial altering fan speed with ginormous push buttons for directing digital temperature up and down.

As with Wrangler or Wrangler Unlimited, a large grab bar adorns the region above the glovebox

Shotgun passengers may grab this when entering, or the convenient handle molded into interior ‘A’ pillars. Plentiful front headroom contrasts with leg room a bit tight for long striders.

The instrument panel includes two eye-pleasing analog gauges surrounding a multi-panel digital window monitored via the front-side left side of the steering wheel. Circular, manually closing/opening vents intersperse across the straight-across dashboard. Push tabs below the sound system control the four power side windows.

2021 Jeep Gladiator Overland  4 x 4

Price as tested:  $61,435

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel

Horsepower:  260

Wheelbase: 137.3 inches

Overall Height: 73.1 inches

Overall Width: 73.8 inches

Overall Length: 218.0 inches

Curb Weight:  4,742 pounds

Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city 28 mpg highway

Powertrain Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles

Assembly:  Toledo, Ohio

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.